Satellite images expose drifting barrier at mouth of contested atoll in South China Sea

Analyst discusses festering tensions between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea

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This picture handled Feb.16, 2024 programs Chinese coast guard workers aboard their stiff hull inflatable boat (L) carefully routing another vessel (R) run by Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources workers from the BRP Datu Tamblot as they attempt to go into the China- managed Scarborough Shoal (background), in contested waters of the South ChinaSea

Ted Aljibe|Afp|Getty Images

Satellite images of the fiercely contested Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea reveal a brand-new floating barrier throughout its entryway, near where Philippine ships and China coast guard vessels have actually had regular encounters.

One of the images taken by Maxar Technologies onFeb 22 and seen by Reuters revealed the barrier obstructing the mouth of the shoal, where the Chinese coast guard recently declared to have actually repelled a Philippine vessel “illegally intruding” into Beijing’s waters.

The Philippines, which recently released a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, or BFAR, vessel to patrol the shoal and transportation fuel to Filipino anglers in the location, stated that China’s claims were “inaccurate” which Manila’s activities there were legal.

China declares the Scarborough Shoal, although it is inside the Philippines’ 200- nautical mile special financial zone. An global arbitration tribunal in the Hague stated in 2016 that China’s claims had no legal basis– a choice Beijing has actually declined.

That makes the atoll among Asia’s most objected to maritime functions and a flashpoint for diplomatic flare-ups over sovereignty and fishing rights.

The satellite image reinforces a report and video dispersed by the Philippine Coast Guard, or PCG, on Sunday revealing 2 Chinese coast guard inflatable boats releasing drifting barriers at the shoal’s entryway on Feb 22.

The PCG stated that a China coast guard ship watched the BFAR vessel, “conducted blocking manoeuvres” about 1.3 nautical miles (2.4 km) off the shoal, and carefully approached it.

“We can assume that (the barrier) is intended for Philippine government vessels because they install it every time they monitor our presence within the BDM vicinity,” Jay Tarriela, a representative at the Philippine Coast Guard stated, describing Bajo de Masinloc, Manila’s name for the shoal.

Chinese foreign ministry representative Mao Ning stated “Huangyan Dao”, China’s name for the shoal, was “China’s inherent territory”.

“Recently, the Philippine side has taken a series of actions to violate China’s sovereignty” in the shoal’s waters, she stated. “China has to take necessary measures to firmly safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.”

Another satellite image revealed what Maxar innovations referred to as “possible Chinese interception of a BFAR vessel” at Scarborough Shoal.

China declares practically the whole South China Sea, an avenue for more than $3 trillion in yearly ship commerce. Its territorial claims overlap with those of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

“What we are seeing at the Scarborough Shoal now is likely the beginning of Beijing’s pushback against Manila’s pushback,” stated Ian Storey, a senior fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr took workplace in June 2022, the Philippines has actually challenged China’s existence at Scarborough and its efforts to stop the resupply of Filipino soldiers stationed at Second Thomas Shoal, he stated.

“China’s attempts to prevent Filipino fishermen from fishing at Scarborough Shoal is absolutely illegal,” Storey stated. “The 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling gave fishermen from both countries the right to (fish there). Manila is merely supporting the legitimate rights of Filipino fishermen.”

The shoal is coveted for its plentiful fish stocks and a sensational blue-green lagoon that offers a safe house for vessels throughout storms.

The Chinese got rid of the barrier a couple of hours after the BFAR vessel left, Tarriela stated. It was unclear from the images how robust the barrier was and whether it would have postured a barrier to bigger warships.

In a short article on Sunday, state-media outlet Global Times stated “the Philippines has abused and unilaterally sabotaged the foundation of Beijing’s goodwill to Manila” that permitted Philippine anglers to run close by, by working versus China’s sovereignty and jurisdiction.

“If such provocations persist, China could be forced to take more effective measures to control the situation,” the post stated, pointing out professionals.